Lampedusa wreck: EU proposes migrant rescue mission

The European Commission is proposing that the EU launch a Mediterranean-wide search and rescue mission to intercept migrant boats. The move by Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem was prompted by the Lampedusa migrant boat tragedy,

which killed more than 230 people. She will present the plan to EU ministers in Luxembourg on Tuesday. The alleged skipper of the Lampedusa boat, a Tunisian man, is being held in Sicily, suspected of manslaughter.

The Commission's plan calls for an operation by the EU's Frontex border agency "from Cyprus to Spain", Ms Malmstroem's spokesman told the BBC. The search and rescue operation would "help better tracking, identification and rescue of boats, especially migrants' boats", spokesman Michele Cercone said. "It could help prevent tragedies like the one in Lampedusa," he said.

Divers have recovered dozens more bodies from a boat carrying African migrants that sank off the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa on Thursday. The victims were mostly from Eritrea and Somalia. Khaled Bensalam, 35, is in custody in Agrigento, Sicily. Investigators suspect him of being responsible for the sinking and he could face multiple counts of manslaughter, though no charges have been laid yet, the BBC's Rome office was told.

Some witnesses say Mr Bensalam had a role in the fire on board and others say they waited for hours in the water before being picked up. In Luxembourg Ms Malmstroem will seek political support for the planned EU mission and the necessary resources, because to implement it, "Frontex will need additional resources".

"We will see how they [member states] react", Mr Cercone added. Frontex is currently helping Italy to intercept migrant boats, but the two EU operations in the southern Mediterranean have limited resources - a total of four ships, two helicopters and two planes. Bodies recovered Unidentified tombs of immigrants at a cemetery in Lampedusa on 7 October 2013 Many who die trying to make the perilous crossing are buried in this cemetery in unidentified graves Tens of thousands of migrants attempt the perilous crossing from North Africa to Sicily and other Italian islands each year. Accidents are common, but last week's shipwreck was among the deadliest on record.

There were 155 survivors of the Lampedusa accident, which happened about 1km (half a mile) offshore. The operation to recover bodies from the hull was abandoned for the night, but will resume on Tuesday. The wreck is lying about 47m (155ft) below the surface, which means the recovery divers can only stay on the bottom for a short time. On Monday 38 bodies were freed from the hull, which divers had previously been unable to access. The official death toll now stands at 232. Divers "unpacked a wall of people", a navy officer said, adding that corpses were "so entwined one with the other" they were difficult to pull out. Italy has again called for more assistance from the EU for the member states in the Mediterranean which bear the brunt of mass immigration. Malta and Greece have made similar appeals previously. EU states have for years been unable to reach agreement on a common migration and asylum policy. Key migrant routes to southern Europe